Buells are like that, too. Here we have a pair on non-identical twins.
On one side the unruly and frankly slightly mad Lightning, and
on the other this, the sportier but far more sensible and well
mannered Firebolt. Now don’t get me wrong here, the Firebolt
is only sensible by Buell standards. For anyone else it’s
still as mad as a tuned 1200cc Harley engine bolted into a 250
frame could be.
Inevitably, given the shared genes, there are a lot of core similarities
between the two bikes. Having reviewed the Lightning in detail,
I'll get the technical bits out of the way here. The Firebolt has
a mildly tuned 1200cc Harley engine and gearbox. That’s
not modern technology, and it shows at times, despite the 21st
century addition of fuel injection. The exhaust is directly under
the engine, exiting to the left. Like all current Buells, the
fuel tank is in the frame and the oil is in the swingarm. Braking
is taken care of by a single rim mounted front disc while drive
is delivered through a large, toothed Kevlar belt.
That’s just about where the similarities end, though, as
the Firebolt is a sportsbike of the clipons and rearsets mould.
The lower bars not only completely change the appearance of the
bike, they completely change the riding experience as well. The
Firebolt, far from being an unruly wheelie monster like its
brother, is as well planted at the front as the best continental
offering. There is an immense amount of feedback available through
the bars and the seat, and the rider always knows exactly what
is going on. And, more to the point, what is coming next. A statement
which might not always be true with the Lightning.
On the road the riding position
makes itself known in the form of stiffer wrists and slightly
more effort in turning. At least until speed builds up a bit and
lets the airflow take some of the strain. In fairness, it was
never a big deal but if you only ride around town then it might
become one. The fairing, as well as looking great, does a remarkably
good job of deflecting the elements as well as holding the mirrors
in such a position that they actually do something useful. The
lights, while managing to resemble the bulging eyes of some giant
carnivorous insect, make the road ahead sufficiently clear to
prevent darkness from interfering with a good ride.
I say a good ride? My mistake. The Firebolt is a great ride. Handling
is fantastic, needing a firm nudge to turn in but repaying that
with rock solid stability, both bolt upright and on its ear. Ground
clearance appears to be limited only by fear; I certainly got
nowhere near touching anything down. The fact that I was even
able to consider exploring the handling in the weather we enjoyed
while we had the bikes is great testimony to the tyres and to
the power delivery. While there is easily sufficient grunt to
overwhelm the tyres if you’re ham-fisted, the progressive
nature of the engine meant that you could wind on the power and
not risk a sudden surge leaving you on your bum. At the same time,
the standard Dunlop D207 tyres do a terrific job of harnessing
all that torque and keeping everything pointing in the right direction.
And the right way up.
Now getting caught in the snow on a 100bhp bike is never going
to be a relaxing experience, but I can say a few things for certain.
When the Firebolt did slide, it did it progressively and it was
very easy to catch and control. The brakes, while fearsomely powerful,
are blessed with enough feel to allow fairly drama free retardation,
even on a blanket of snow. And the enormous engine produces a
very welcome amount of heat, allowing the use of lighter gloves,
at least while riding in town, and so promising better control.
But if you're at least vaguely sane, most of the time you won't
be riding in conditions like that. So it's probably more relevant
to talk about the riding experience in better conditions.
Firebolt is one of those bikes that simply fits. It's comfortable
to sit on and easy to mount, no doubt as a result of its diminuitive
size. The layout throws you into a semi racing crouch - far more
comfortable than it sounds and ideally positioned to make the
most of the handling. Like its sibling, the Firebolt is blessed
with an engine with a long and gloriuos history. This means that
it is slow revving and noisy, and attached to a truly nasty gearbox.
It also means that it is incredibly strong, has more character
than the entire model range of most other manufacturers combined,
sounds fantastic when on song and will still be running when all
the multi cylinder rice rockets in the world have crumbled to
dust. And, anachronistic or not, the engine really suits the bike.
On the open, dry but still rather cold road, the 1200cc lump never
seems strained or frantic. It sometimes sounds a little asthmatic
but I am sure that all it needs is a less restrictive exhaust
to cure that. Even slightly reasonable cruising speeds are maintained
with no fuss or drama at all, and in reality it isn't until you
take a glance at the speedo, especially leaving a roundabout or
junction fairly enthusiastically, that you realise just how fast
this bike is. The impression of lethargy is reinforced as you
take corners, especially corners you know well, because it feels
as though you are way down on speed while, in reality, you probably
have never been round there faster. Handling really is that good.
year we raved about the 900 Firebolt on the track and on the road.
The 1200 is a better bike all round with all the good points and
more power. It is certainly the best, most fun, all round bike
we've had so far this year.
There's only one question left to ask. Did JK Rowling name Harry Potter's favourite broom
before or after she rode a Buell?